Accused airport shooter Esteban Santiago pleads not guilty to 22 charges
The Iraq war veteran charged with killing five people and injuring six others in a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s international airport pleaded not guilty to the allegations against him on Monday.
Esteban Santiago, 26, leaned over the wooden lectern in court and appeared to read along as U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer read the entire 17-page indictment aloud to him — including the names of the five people killed in the mass shooting.
Santiago replied “yes” after each of the 22 charges when Seltzer asked if he understood them.
Santiago appeared calm and spoke in the same monotone he has used in all of the prior hearings. He was handcuffed to a chain around his waist, was shackled and wore a red jumpsuit with the words “Max Custody Inmate” in black letters on the back.
One of his lawyers then told the judge that Santiago was pleading not guilty to all of the charges.
If convicted of the most serious counts, he faces life in federal prison or the possibility of the death penalty.
He is charged with five counts of causing death at an international airport, six counts of causing serious bodily injury at an international airport, five counts of causing death during a crime of violence and six counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.
After the hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Santiago was moved from the Broward County main jail to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami. Federal inmates are generally detained in the jail or prison closest to where most of their court hearings will be held and Santiago’s case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom who usually holds hearings in Miami.
Santiago, who has a history of mental health problems, surrendered beside the baggage carousels in Terminal 2 after he fired all 15 bullets that he had at the airport.
The grand jurors who indicted Santiago found that he caused “grave risk of death to other people” and the crime involved “substantial planning and premeditation.”
The five people who died in the Jan. 6 mass shooting were Mary Louise Amzibel, 69, of Dover, Delaware, Michael John Oehme, 57, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Olga M. Woltering, 84, of Marietta, Ga., Shirley Wells Timmons, 70, of Senecaville, Ohio and Terry Michael Andres, 62, of Virginia Beach, Va.
The six people who were injured by gunfire, including Amzibel’s husband, Edward, Timmons’ husband, Steve, and Oehme’s wife, Kari, are identified only by their initials in the indictment. The other survivors have not been publicly identified.
FBI agents testified that Santiago confessed to planning the massacre and told investigators he traveled to South Florida to carry it out.
Prosecutors have said they have not yet ruled out terrorism as a possible motive but they filed no terrorism-related charges against Santiago.
Though he told told agents he had visited online jihadi chat rooms and thought he was in contact with Islamic State terrorists, investigators have not yet confirmed if that is true.
Santiago voluntarily entered a psychiatric hospital for treatment in November after he went to the FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, and asked for help.
At the time, he told agents that his mind was being controlled by the U.S. government and he was having “terroristic thoughts” and being urged to watch terrorist propaganda online.
He was hospitalized for less than a week and the gun, which he used in the Fort Lauderdale shooting, was returned to him by local police in Alaska one month before the fatal attack.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ricardo Del Toro and Lawrence LaVecchio. Santiago is now being defended by Chief Assistant Federal Public Defender Hector Dopico and Assistant Federal Public Defender Eric Cohen.
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